It was a warm September morning. It was the first day of high school and the day that Claude had been dreading ever since eighth grade had finished. Claude had many fears of high school. He had heard stories about what happened to grade nine boys in the first few days. He did not want to get bullied and harassed and could not stop thinking about how it would ruin his life. He stopped to walk with his friend Danny. Claude thought that if there were two of them, maybe they would not be such an easy target. The two boys were walking towards the high school of their small town. Danny wouldn’t stop talking about how excited he was. Claude was thinking more of his fears then listening to Danny. Danny looked at Claude and asked “Aren’t you excited bud?” Claude looked up from the ground.
“Oh yeah sure. Real excited.”
“Are you sure? You don’t look too excited or happy.” Danny said as he observed Claude’s tone.
Claude looked up at Danny “Can we just get there and get it over with?” Danny nodded and kept walking but staying much quieter than before.
The school would be in sight just after they crossed this street. Claude reached forward and pushed the crosswalk button. They waited and watched as all of the colours of different cars raced by. Claude could see the top of the school over the hill that the football field was on. The suns light shone brightly off the blue roof while the Canadian flag flew boldly in the sky. Claude got caught up staring at the intimidating sight of the school, not noticing that the light had changed. Danny started walking and looked back. “Claude? Are you coming?”
Claude snapped back into reality and started walking “Sorry yeah.” He walked across the street with Danny and they made their way around the corner that was hiding the school. As they turned the corner Claude looked up and saw what he really did not want to. The intimidating building stood in its place. It was three times the size of his elementary school and looked like it had no life to it. The sun went under a cloud just as the school came into view, revealing the real dull blue that the roof really was. The brick colour that covered the whole school was even dull and depressing. Claude’s eyes wandered down to the doors where all the kids were going in. He saw other boys that were twice his size. Danny seemed to take notice of how intimidating the school was too. The smirk that he had on his face all morning had disappeared very quickly. The boys looked at each other but did not even need to say a word. Claude and Danny had known each other for so long that they knew exactly what the other one was thinking. They continued to walk up the pathway and opened the door into a whole new world.
As they entered into the school, there was a table next to the door with seniors handing out schedules. Claude and Danny walked over to the table and got their schedules from the seniors. Claude thought to himself that if all the seniors were this nice then high school would be great. Danny looked at Claude and tried to see his schedule and said “Hey, lemme see your schedule.” Claude handed it to him and started looking around. He noticed how high the roof was and how much larger the lockers were compared to the tiny ones you get at elementary school. As he was caught up looking at everything, he bumped straight into a much larger guy. He looked up, convinced that he was going to get punched in the face. The sights of him lying on the ground with blood gushing out of his nose were constantly running through his head. The bigger kid looked down at him. His face was started to turn an angry red and he said in a deep voice. “Watch it niner.”
“I’m s..sorry..” Claude said in total fear and started walking quickly
“Hey wait up.” Danny said running up beside Claude. Danny seemed completely oblivious to what had just happened and seemed really focused on Claude’s schedule. Claude slowed down and started to calm down by taking deep breaths and not looking back. Danny handed him his schedule and said “Our lockers are beside each other and we have a few classes together. How great is that?”
“That’s awesome. So where are our lockers then?”
Danny looked at Claude and then at some of the lockers to get an idea of where they were. He saw the numbers; 131, 132, 133, etc. He knew that his locker was 214. “Maybe they’re upstairs. All these numbers seem to be in the one hundreds.” They walked up the stairs and down a long hallway that seemed like it would never end. They turned a corner and started to see more people they knew. They saw their lockers and figured that this must be the hallway for all the grade nine’s lockers. They put their stuff in their lockers and Claude let out a sigh of relief knowing that all of the kids around him were probably feeling the same way he was.
Claude and Danny put their bags away in their lockers. The lockers were gigantic in comparison to the tiny lockers they used in elementary school. These lockers had two shelves which was more room than any students needs but Claude was glad because he never had enough room in his old locker. He put his empty binders into the locker, which still looked empty but he knew he’d be getting a lot of textbooks. The workload of high school didn’t scare Claude. He was used to a lot of work and handled it very well. Claude was more scared of the bullies and that was all that was on his mind. He couldn’t stop thinking about the incident earlier when he bumped into the bigger kid. Danny surprised him when he said “Should we just hang out here for a bit then?” Claude looked at Danny and said,
“Oh yea let’s do that. I don’t really want to go back into any other hallways. I think this one is nice.”
“Alright man. So we have Gym first or what?” Danny fumbled with his schedule to see what his first class was then nodded, “Yea we have Gym. What sport do you think we’ll do?”
“I’m not sure. Probably not anything too much since no one will have anything to change into.” Claude thought about what sports they could play and then it hit him. Dodge ball. In every high school movie he’d ever watched, the small grade nine kids always got picked on in Dodge ball by the giants from twelfth grade. The thoughts of getting pelted in the face by the senior he ran into earlier were terrifying and it was a good thing Danny was not paying attention because Claude was shaking a little bit. Claude tried to stop himself and finally did. Danny looked up at Claude then down the hallway. He smiled,
“Hey look it’s all the rest of the guys.” Danny walked towards them and Claude smiled for the first time since being in this building and walked towards them. Danny did most of the talking as usual but Claude looked at his other friends, observing their faces. They all seemed fairly calm but maybe that was just because they were in the safe hallway. He found out that a few of them were also in his Gym class. One kid, named Scott knew where the gym was since his brother had attended this high school and told him where it was so they all followed Scott towards the gym. As Danny and Scott opened the door to the gym and Claude stepped in, he saw the big senior with a few of his friends standing in there talking to the gym teacher. He stared in the direction of those seniors and he felt chills go down his spine.
Claude and Danny went and sat down on the bleachers next to a bunch of other guys that were in their class. Claude knew some of them but never really talked to them so he stayed quiet and started to look around. The smell of the freshly polished floor was very noticeable since he had walked in the door. It was so shiny and made him wonder why the school would want it so shiny if it was just going to get all marked up. He saw how big the bleachers really were and figured how many people must come to all the basketball and volleyball games. He looked a little more left and saw a giant hawk on the wall with eyes that looked right at you no matter where you were in the gym. He knew that the mascot of his new school was a hawk. The walls were littered with lines of red and black so Claude figured that those were his new school colours. His eyes kept moving to the left and they came across the scoreboard that was on. It made a surprisingly loud buzzer sound that made him jump but it was quickly turned off by one of the seniors. Claude wondered why the scoreboard was on and it gave him hope that maybe they were playing something else that wasn’t dodge ball. The gym teacher turned and started to talk about what he expected of everyone. The gym teacher had a booming voice that you could hear from across the gym. He saw one of the equipment room doors open behind the teacher and started to look in there. He saw hockey nets piled in the corner, basketballs piled up in a basket and then he saw what he didn’t want to see. Beside the open door were 5 volleyballs. They had red and black stripes just like the wall and they looked very firm, like they were freshly filled with air. Fear had filled his mind again. He looked back at the gym teacher who was surprisingly still talking and started to listen.
The big senior was standing next to the teacher and he had noticed Claude. He started to stare at him. Claude tried not to look back but he couldn’t help it. The senior had an intimidating smile on his face and Claude knew that he was going to be a target for this kid. The other kids started to move off the bleachers and move towards the outer walls of the gym. Claude followed Danny and whispered,
“Hey what are we doing?” Danny looked at Claude. He could see the fear in Danny’s eyes for the first time today and that made Claude even more scared.
“Dodge ball. Us against the seniors.” When Claude heard this, he looked over at the seniors lining up on the wall. All of them were huge. Not even one of the ninth graders came anywhere close to their size. The teacher lined the volleyballs up along the center of the gym, which had an enormous hawk in the middle. The floor was a dull brown colour with a few lines going through it for the various sports that were played. He looked back up at the seniors and the whistle blew to begin the game.
Claude started to run towards the balls in the middle and then stopped because he realized he was the only one. The seniors had grabbed all the balls and looked at Claude and his team. They all backed up right against the wall as the balls were pelted at them. Claude managed to dodge them all but some of his friends weren’t so lucky and were hit. He looked up to see the big senior from before. He had a ball and he was winding up right at Claude. This was his worst fear and Claude dove out of the way and onto the floor. He looked down at the floor trying to decide if he wanted to just stay there but that wasn’t Claude. He pushed himself back up and looked around at this team. It was just he and Danny left. He grabbed the ball that was thrown at him and used it for a shield. He threw one to Danny as well and Danny followed suit. There were only two seniors left which wasn’t surprising since there was only five in the class. He saw Danny race up to the line and throw the ball and it hit one of them. Danny turned and ran back towards Claude to celebrate. The big senior grabbed a ball and hit Danny right in the back of the head. Danny dropped to the shiny floor but just as he did, Claude realized how vulnerable the senior would be and threw his ball on pure instinct. He nailed the senior and raised his arms in victory. All of the ninth graders started to cheer and Danny gave Claude a huge pat on the back. The senior looked at Claude with anger in his eyes and Claude started to regret what he had just done but he was so proud of what he had just done at the same time.
The gym teacher came out onto the court and got the seniors to put all the balls away. The big senior was walking around the outside of the gym and he did not look happy. The gym teacher yelled out to him,
“Hey Marc, Help out would you?” He looked up and walked into the equipment room to help out. Claude was just standing around with the other ninth graders and he had just learned the seniors’ name. He intended to stay away from him the rest of the day and maybe even the rest of the year if possible. He saw all the seniors come out of the equipment room and decided to go in. All the other ninth graders were distracted by something the seniors were doing so he decided to slip away. He wanted to see how much better the equipment was then what he was used to back at elementary school. He turned the corner into the room and started to look around. He heard the quiet clicking noise of the door shutting. Claude turned around to see Marc standing over him. He towered over Claude and Claude looked up at him.
“Oh hey.. G..good game out there.” Claude said as his voice trembled.
“No. It wasn’t a good game! You made me look like an idiot! Who do you think you are?”
“I.. I’m sorry. I was just trying to win like everyone else..”
“I hope you know what you’ve done.” Marc looked at Claude with wide eyes.
“N..No.. I don’t..” Claude’s eyes did not leave Marc’s the whole time.
“Then come behind the school after the bell and you’ll find out..” Marc opened the door behind him and walked out, leaving looked standing in the equipment room. Claude’s fear had returned and as he looked down, he found his hands shaking uncontrollably. Claude leaned against the door and closed his eyes. He didn’t let himself cry and made himself stop shaking the best he could. He took a few deep breaths and gathered himself. He opened his eyes and turned around. He left the equipment room and went back over to Danny and his friends. Claude didn’t mention it at all to Danny because he didn’t want to drag Danny into this too. This was Claude’s’ problem and he did not have a good feeling about it.
Claude walked out of the gym with Danny to go back to their lockers. It seemed as if the fear that Danny had before the dodge ball game had disappeared and he was back to his talkative and excited state. Claude gave a nod and said ‘yea’ every now and then to make Danny think he was listening. However, Claude was much more concerned about Marc. He wondered why Marc wanted to meet him after school. What did he want? Is he just going to beat me up for winning? Why did it have to be Claude? Why not someone else? Claude had no answers for these questions and he wouldn’t until he went to go meet Marc. Danny and Claude had made it to their lockers. They opened them and grabbed the books they needed for their next class. Claude had Science and Danny had Math so Danny put his books under his arm and looked at Claude who was still looking for the right binder.
“I’ll see you later man. I’m gonna go see if I can find the Math rooms.” Claude nodded to Danny and pulled a binder down into his arms.
“Alright. See you later then.” Claude gave a little wave and shut his locker. He knew his next class was in room 210.Luckily for Claude, it was directly across the hallway from his locker. He walked straight ahead and into the room. He picked a seat near the back so that he could keep an eye on everyone. Claude was so on edge that he couldn’t stand having anyone behind him. He sat down and put his head down on his desk as everyone started to come into the room. He stared at the markings and writing on the desks. One of them read: “Niners suck! Better watch out cause we’ll make you pay!”
Claude looked at it and wished that he’d saw that before he went to gym class because he would have purposely lost to Marc so that he wouldn’t be in this situation. Through his whole Science class while the teacher talked. All that went through Claude’s head was images of what could happen after school. Maybe he would shake Claude’s hand and tell him that he was really brave and courageous but Claude laughed a bit in his head and thought that was so doubtful. He mostly thought to himself that he was going to have a broken bone or two and Danny would end up having to help him get home. The rest of Claude’s classes went the exact same way as his Science class. He spent them constantly thinking of what he feared most. Marc. He went to his locker after the final bell of the day and put his binders into it. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. His heart started pounding and it wouldn’t stop. He pulled his backpack onto his shoulders and Danny showed up beside him.
“Hey you ready to go?” He quickly put his books away and grabbed his bag. Claude looked down at Danny with more fear in his eyes then he had felt all day.
“Are you alright man? You look scared as hell.” Danny said as he noticed.
“I am… M..Marc told me to meet him behind the school after class.” Danny’s mouth dropped open and he started to feel Claude’s fear.
“Wow.. Well I guess we have to go then. He’ll find us if we don’t.” Claude nodded at Danny and felt a bit better that Danny would be with him. Of course that wouldn’t do much but it meant a lot to Claude that Danny would be there. They walked out the back doors of the school to see Marc standing off in a patch of pavement that looked like it used to be a basketball court. A few of the seniors that were in the gym earlier were also with Marc. Claude’s legs felt like they had fifty pound weights on them but Danny and him slowly made their way towards Marc and the others.
Marc had noticed them and stared both of the boys down with cold eyes as Claude and Danny slowly walked towards him. The boys stayed close to each other to make themselves feel bigger. They reached the edge of the pavement and both stopped. There was a silence. There was a distant noise of talking and laughter from the other side of the school but the building blocked most of it. Marc just stared at the two boys. Even the few seniors behind him were quiet. Claude looked up at Marc and decided to speak first.
“Why are we here?” He said, trying to sound as confident as possible. Marc looked back at his friends and made a face that neither of the boys saw. He turned back around with the same look he had on before. He looked down at Claude.
“Because you think you’re a big shot when all you really are is a niner that is gonna get his ass kicked. You don’t come in here the first day and beat the seniors in dodge ball.” Marc looked at Claude angrily and you could see the pure rage in his eyes. Claude was frozen in his place. He couldn’t move. All he could do was at least try to defend himself and make it so that his best friend and him didn’t get beat up.
“I was just trying my best.. I couldn’t just let you win. Come on let this go I promise I won’t do it again.. Don’t beat us up.” Claude said as Danny stood next to him, starting to get scared. He had never seen Claude scared enough to beg before but he was now. Marc didn’t respond right away and instead turned around again to his friends. They were obviously saying something to each other but Claude couldn’t understand and neither could Danny. He turned around again but this time he was laughing. Claude looked at Danny with a confused look. Marc pointed at Claude.
“Are you actually begging me right now? You’re that scared that we’re gonna kick your asses and leave you behind the school?” The two boys looked at each other then back at Marc and nodded slowly. As they nodded, it just made Marc laugh even more.
“God.. I love being a senior. I can’t believe this actually worked on you two.” Claude realized that all of Marc’s friends were laughing too. He felt all of the tension that had been around all day, suddenly float off into the air. Claude had no idea what was going on and he nudged Danny but Danny had no idea either.
Marc laughed and came over to the two boys. He smiled down at Claude. Claude hadn’t seen his smile all day but Claude was still scared because he was clueless right now. Marc’s friends had stopped laughing and had begun walking away. Marc stayed in front of Claude and Danny.
“You guys don’t have older brothers or anything that went to this school?” Claude and Danny shook their heads. Claude was an only child and Danny had a younger sister. This made Marc smile more. “Wow this was perfect then. I picked the perfect two guys to play this prank on.” Marc was seemed very proud of himself. Claude was angry that this whole thing was a prank and he’d just wasted his whole day being terrified but he was also happy because he wouldn’t be getting beat up today.
“So this was all just a prank? Does this happen every year or did you just do it to us?” Claude asked, wanting to figure out more about what was going on.
“Yea it was a prank. I don’t know if it happens every year. Just something the boys and I came up with. We didn’t really think it would work but you guys were scared out of your minds!” He laughed and continued to boast about his prank. “They banned the real initiation when I was a niner so we’ve started to pull pranks on the niners instead of actual initiation. Now you can do it when you’re a senior.” He said. Claude thought to himself that he would never do anything like this to anyone. Marc offered Claude a handshake. Claude took it and then Marc offered the same thing to Danny.
“I am really sorry guys. We thought it’d be funny and you guys took it really well but hey if you guys ever need something, don’t be afraid to ask me. I honestly won’t beat you up.”
“Thanks we guess?” Claude said not knowing what to really say.
“See you around!” Marc said and turned, running after his friends. Claude looked at Danny. They didn’t say anything to each other and started walking home. They both felt like total idiots but once they turned onto Danny’s street where Claude had met Danny that morning, Danny turned to Claude and said,
“It was kinda funny I guess.” Claude laughed and gave Danny a light punch on the shoulder.
“Yea but we’re not gonna talk about this again. We’ll just leave it like this.” Danny nodded in agreement and walked up to his house “See you tomorrow Claude!” Claude waived and continued home.
Claude always remembered his first day of high school. It was turning out to be one of the worst days of his life but actually turned out to be a bit funny. Claude even started to love his school even though he thought that he never would when he was sitting in that gym. Claude and Danny never said a word about what had happened. Marc surprisingly didn’t either and for the rest of Claude’s freshman year, Marc was one of his good friends. When they played dodge ball in gym class, Marc and Claude were almost unstoppable together. Sometimes things can’t get worse but they can always get better and Claude never forgot that.